FOR decades, Nittingshill Cemetery – and its dark past – has been largely ignored by history.

Few people have heard of this quiet corner of rural Renfrewshire and fewer still have visited to pay their respects to its tragic ‘inhabitants.’

But to Sandy Smith and his partner Jayne Taylor-Savery, it represents a scene of triumph in their fight to make sure children who were abused at Quarriers are never forgotten.

The pair, who were both raped at the hands of Quarriers staff as youngsters, have campaigned tirelessly to see ‘lost’ gravestones marking the final resting place of 335 children who died at the orphanage, on the outskirts of Bridge of Weir, being restored.

The Gazette: New gravestones mark the final resting place of 335 children who died at QuarriersNew gravestones mark the final resting place of 335 children who died at Quarriers

“No child should be in an unmarked grave,” Sandy told The Gazette. “It has taken us years to fight for this but, for the sake of the children, we wouldn’t give up.

“We were shocked when we found out the graves had been removed and we knew we had to make sure they were replaced.”

Sandy and Jayne had to overcome plenty of red tape in order to get the new gravestones put in place.

Thanks to a video shot at the orphanage back in the 1950s, the couple were able to prove the existence of the graves.

“I think it is fate that Sandy and I returned there, as only Quarriers children would have been able to recognise the lack of gravestones,” said Jayne.

“I used to play hopscotch there, so I knew they were missing, but staff kept telling us we were wrong. Then we discovered a video shot in the 1950s which clearly showed Sandy and I, as well as my brother David and sister Wilma, playing in the cemetery, which was full of headstones.

“We eventually showed the video at an inquiry into the child abuse that took place at Quarriers and, after that, a decision was taken to restore them.

“It is so special to have reached this stage. I walked through the graveyard and read out each child’s name from the gravestones.

The Gazette: Countless children were abused at the Quarriers orphanageCountless children were abused at the Quarriers orphanage

“It has been a big fight to achieve this but it is very rewarding.

“This is not something we should have had to fight so hard to do.”

The Quarriers abuse scandal lifted the lid on the dreadful suffering endured by so many of its former residents.

It was supposed to be a place of safety for children who didn’t have their troubles to seek.

Sadly, for many, their experiences at Quarriers have left them haunted for the rest of their lives.

Nobody knows exactly how many children suffered abuse at the orphanage but it is estimated the number could run into thousands for the years between the late 19th century and the 1980s.

Sandy, 68, and Jayne, 67, were molested after being taken into the orphanage at the age of five.

After waiving his right to anonymity as he spoke out during the recent Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, Sandy told how he had lived in a cottage at Quarriers, where he was joined by 17 other boys, all overseen by a ‘housefather.’

While there were some happy days, including time spent with the Boys’ Brigade, pain and misery followed for Sandy when, at the age of eight, the abuse started.

Like many other victims, he tried to tell Quarriers bosses about the abuse but, rather than being helped, he was only scolded and forced to apologise.

By the time he finally left the orphanage shortly before his 10th birthday, he had been raped four times by staff and left with emotional scars which have yet to heal.

Sandy tried to forget the horrors that had happened to him.

He got married, had children of his own and got a job but always found it difficult to lead a ‘normal’ life.

“I still wake up screaming because of my nightmares and these thoughts,” he previously told The Gazette. “I have lost count of the amount of times I have tried to commit suicide.

“I don’t want to see anyone else suffer and not get the justice they deserve.”

The gravestones will be officially unveiled later this month and Sandy is hoping local people will rally round to offer their support.

He said: “We want to see one person turn up for every child, whether they are related to the child or not.

“We also plan on placing one white rose on each gravestone.”

A spokesperson for Quarriers said: “Quarriers is delighted that improvements to Nittingshill Graveyard in Quarriers Village are now complete. We are very grateful to former residents and descendants who have assisted by sharing their views and memories.

The Gazette: Sandy and Jayne Sandy and Jayne

“Quarriers made an early commitment to putting grave markers in place as we agreed it was the right thing to do. We consulted with descendants and former residents, as well as specialists in regard to cemeteries, their upkeep and appropriate memorials.

“In speaking to descendants, former residents and staff about this sensitive and emotional subject, their recollections of the graveyard differed, as did some of their hopes about how this might best be improved. We offer an unreserved apology to anyone who suffered abuse whilst in Quarriers’ care. Engagement with survivors is invaluable and welcomed openly.”

The service to unveil the new gravestones will take place on Sunday, September 29, from 2.30pm, and all are welcome to attend.

Read all the latest from Renfrewshire and beyond